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Gusmao Appeals for Continuing International Support - 2002-04-26

With less than a month to go before East Timor achieves formal independence, its first ever president-elect Xanana Gusmao has appealed for continuing international support to help East Timor succeed as a democratic state. Mr. Gusmao spoke in New York Friday to a special meeting of the U.N. Security Council.

President-elect Gusmao says so far so good. His about-to-become independent country has just gone through a successful, democratic election, which international observers say was free and fair. The East Timorese flocked to the polls and gave Mr. Gusmao, a former guerrilla fighter against Indonesian occupation, a landslide victory.

But East Timor's president-elect says gigantic challenges lie ahead. Independence for East Timor comes officially May 20. He says what happens in his country after that depends on strong international support.

"How are we going to respond to the basic needs of our people in terms of employment, basic health and the right to education? How are we going to nurture and sustain an integrated democratic process? All these are real challenges, not only for us the Timorese, but also for the United Nations," Mr. Gusmao said.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan agrees. He has urged governments not to abandon East Timor. The United Nations sent peacekeeping troops to East Timor, as it prepared for elections and independence. The Secretary-General wants the Security Council to authorize a follow-up force for about two years, to help the government maintain law and order and secure its borders.

"Peace has been secured and basic governmental structures have been put in place," he said. "A sense of normality has returned. But all this is only the start. The government of East Timor faces enormous tasks. It must not be left alone."

Giving a green light for U.N. operations, given their cost and the UN.'s limited resources, is not always an easy matter for governments to deal with. The Security Council is expected to make some kind of decision before East Timor's independence day May 20.